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Cruise Port Review
Alaska Ports of Call

Cruising From Vancouver

by Alan Walker

If you're like me and want to know what you're looking at when arriving at or leaving a port, here's some comments on what you'll see when cruising into or out of Vancouver's harbor. I made these notes recently when on a one day cruise from Vancouver to Seattle.

Our ship left from the Canada Place cruise terminal, but ships leaving from Ballantyne Pier will see the same sights. The Ballantyne pier is a couple of miles to the east of Canada Place, but as the harbor exit is to the west, ships from Ballantyne will pass the Canada Place terminal on the way out. Obviously, if you are arriving in Vancouver rather than leaving, "port" and "starboard" in this item need to be reversed.

Port of VancouverAs your ship backs out of Canada Place, on the left hand side (port side - I only remember that port is "left" because "port" and "left" have the same number of letters in the word whereas "right" and "starboard" have a bunch more), you can see a highrise building with a sign on it saying Harbour Centre. Above it you will see an observation tower and above that again is a revolving restaurant. Keep this in mind for the next time you're in Vancouver because you get a fabulous view from up there. Looking back closer to Canada Place, you can see a building with a sign "Granville Square", and on the top of that building is a control tower where all harbour traffic is coordinated, including ships and seaplanes.

Also on the port side you will see an old building with a big tower and a "W" on top. I would like to say that this building commemorates my last name, but it was actually the name of one of our local department stores, Woodwards. On the port side you can also see our seabus terminal, and if you're lucky you'll see one of our seabuses (an enclosed ferry) pulling out, on its way across to the other side of the harbour, North Vancouver. On the port side you may also see our rapid transit train, called the "SkyTrain" pulling into the station. If you look down the harbour to the port side, you can see the Second Narrows Bridge, being one of the two crossings from Vancouver across to our North Shore "bedroom" suburbs.

On the starboard side, you can see many tall buildings - mostly downtown office buildings, but further over to the right they are actually residential buildings, being part of the Vancouver area we call the "West End". The West End is a great place to live with downtown shopping on one side, and Vancouver's Stanley Park on the other. At one time the West End held the record for the most densely populated residential area in the world.

If the foreshore on this side looks a little beat up, it's because the whole of that side of Vancouver harbour is under redevelopment. Only recently the railway yards in front of Vancouver's harbour were taken away, and a whole series of hi-rise developments are scheduled to take place. Hopefully, they will not obstruct the view too much. Looking further over to starboard, you can see a low-rise building with a curved green roof - that is the Trader Vic's bar of the Bayshore Inn Hotel. On this side also, you can see our floating gas stations, which mostly look after small pleasure craft. Behind the gas stations are a whole lot of sheds with green roofs - these are "garages" for people withexpensive yachts or power boats.

As you look out to the harbour, you might also see one of the many seaplanes that land in the harbour - there is a regular service to a number of points over on Vancouver Island including our capital, Victoria. As the ship finishes backing out of Canada Place, on the starboard side you will see a dry dock over on the North Vancouver side, where cruise ships and others occasionally get refurbished.

On the port side, the ship sails past the edge of Stanley Park. The sidewalk on the edge of the water (the "seawall") is a popular walking/jogging track for local and visitors. Vancouver is lucky to have a 1,200 acre park so close to downtown. You may see one of our local red double decker buses taking sightseers around the park. On the starboard side, you'll be looking across to our North Shore communities, North Vancouver on the right, and West Vancouver on the left. You can tell that Vancouver is still a developing city when you can see, on the starboard side, lots of industry, including our bulk loading facilities for sawdust and yellow sulphur, and bulk loading of other chemicals, and wheat.

Next you pass under Lions Gate Bridge, which is a baby version of the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge was built in the mid 1930's by the Guinness Brewery people, who wanted Vancouverites to be able to access the big landholdings of Guinness up the mountains of the North Shore. The bridge was originally built as a two lane bridge, and now carries three narrow lanes of very busy traffic. As you look across at the North Shore, on your right you'll see Seymour Mountain, and on the left is one of our more famous local mountains, Grouse Mountain. If you look carefully, you can see the towers supporting the gondola cables that go to the top of the mountain, and you may even see the gondola itself. There is a spectacular view of Vancouver from the top of Grouse Mountain (if it's not raining).

Grouse Mountain is high enough to have snow on it during the winter, and it is a favorite local skiing area, being only minutes from downtown. Of course, the real skiing is at Whistler, which is about an hour and a half by car north of Vancouver.

Having passed under Lions Gate Bridge, you will now be looking at West Vancouver on the starboard side. There are many very expensive homes that creep up the mountain side, as well as many very-expensive waterfront apartments. The people of West Vancouver have a wonderful view of all of the cruise ships arriving and departing, and if I had the money, that's where I would be living. (I spent my money on cruising).

Running back now to the port side, the ship will pass by the end of Stanley Park. If you look across the water you can see the waterfront suburbs of Vancouver called "Kitsilano" and "Point Grey". Depending on the weather, you may see lots of sailing boats off the edge of the beach. You may also see a number of cargo ships anchored in the harbour - these are awaiting berths at the commercial docks in the inner Vancouver harbour. Although it looks interesting to see all of the freighters anchored, I am told that each freighter that is sitting in the harbor costs the city $10,000 per day, as a penalty for the ship having to wait because a berth is not available.

At the end of the point on the port side, you can see a few hi-rise buildings on the point - these are buildings at the University of British Columbia, one of Vancouver's two universities. Beyond the point, the mountains in the distance, which will probably still have snow on them during the summer, are actually on Vancouver Island, and not on the mainland. Vancouver Island is a large island, about three times as large as Puerto Rico, or more than ten times as large as New York's Long Island and more than twice as large as Connecticut. You will appreciate the benefit of Vancouver Island as your ship travels north towards Alaska, as the island protects the waters of the inside passage, and makes sailing as smooth as a baby's bottom.

As you look back towards Vancouver on the port side, you can see a green-topped building downtown - that's the Hotel Vancouver, in the center of downtown Vancouver.

On the port side as you pass the point where the University of British Columbia is situated, your ship will sail straight ahead, but if you were sailing to Victoria or Seattle, or back to San Francisco, your ship would turn to port at this time, to go around Vancouver, and down to the Juan de Fuca Strait to get out to the Pacific Ocean.

On the starboard side, you will pass a lighthouse at Point Atkinson. If the ship were to turn to starboard at this point, you would sail up Howe Sound, towards the town of Squamish, a small logging town about halfway to the skiing area of Whistler. Vancouver proper ends at this point, and although the coastline appears to continue, you are now actually looking at a series of islands outside Vancouver harbour, the first one of which is called Bowen Island.

While this item does not attempt to describe the sights on the way up to Alaska, a couple of comments:

While cruising alongside Vancouver Island, you are likely to see more signs of civilization on the port side, as there is a highway that follows the coast of Vancouver Island, and a number of small towns. By contrast, the mainland side has no highway because of the number of deep inlets, and settlement is sparse.

There are a number of small islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland, so it's often difficult to tell whether you're looking at an island or the mainland.

Later on in the evening as you are going up the inside passage and come to the end of Vancouver Island, you will pass through an area known as "Seymour Narrows". Forty years ago, there use to be a large rock sticking up in the middle of the Seymour Narrows, called "Ripple Rock". Many ships ended up hitting that rock, or going down in the whirlpools around the rock, in the early days and right up until 1958. In 1958 a tunnel was dug from the shore underneath the strait and up into the rock, and a blast of TNT got rid of Ripple Rock forever. At the time, it was the largest non-nuclear explosion in history, and a live telecast of the actual explosion was carried over U.S. and Canadian television. Be glad it worked!

A final note: the Alaska panhandle stretches so far south that when you are in Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway or Glacier Bay, you are still "opposite" British Columbia. It's only when you get near Anchorage (Seward) that you are in the "main" part of Alaska.


A couple of Alaska-bound cruise passengers have asked me about dealing with Canadian money while in Vancouver, so here's the full story:

Almost all places visited by U.S. tourists in Vancouver (and Victoria) will accept U.S. dollars, but change will invariably be given in Canadian money, so you will need to deal with our "funny money."

The rate of exchange given for your U.S. dollars will vary (sometimes quite a lot) with the people who accept your U.S. dollars. Many stores (including government operated liquor stores) will have the rate of exchange posted. Taxi drivers are the most "uneven" in giving a proper exchange rate. Remember that the vendor of services or goods is doing you a favor in accepting your U.S. dollars, so you can't complain very much if you don't get the proper exchange rate.

You can always exchange your U.S. dollars ahead of time for Canadian (for example, at a bank at the Vancouver airport or before you leave home). You can also ask ahead of time for the exchange rate before you are committed.

And of course, almost all stores take credit cards (especially Visa and Mastercard, but not always Amex), and the rate of exchange is then set by your credit card company. My experience is that credit card companies use a reasonable rate of exchange.

The current (February 2001) exchange rate is approximately $1.00 U.S. = $1.50 Canadian, or stating it the other way around, 72 cents U.S. = $1.00 Canadian. So, when you see something advertised in Canadian dollars, you can mentally reduce the price by one-quarter to get the rough equivalent in U.S. dollars.

Canadians conveniently use mostly the same type of coinage and bank notes as Americans, i.e., dollars, quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Canadian bank notes are $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. The larger notes are less often seen nowadays as everyone seems to get cash from ATM machines which only spit out $20 bills. Canadian bills have different colors to reduce the chance that we'll mess-up if we get drunk. Grin

However, Canada has given up using $1.00 and $2.00 bills, and we only have coins for these. The $1.00 coin (popularly called a "loon" or a "loonie" by Canadians because of the picture of a Canadian loon (bird) on one side), is a gold-colored, ten-sided coin, slightly larger than a quarter. The two dollar coin (sometimes called a "toonie"), is easily recognizable as it has a gold-colored center (about the size of a penny), and a silver circumference. It's about the size of a fifty cent piece (which we no longer have in Canada).

So, if you buy something worth $15.05 with a $20 bill, you're going to get a lot of change.

How to get rid of Canadian money: the pennies, nickels and dimes you could probably use back in the U.S., as they don't look that different. Canadian quarters have less silver in them and, much to the disappointment of Canadians, most vending machines and slot machines in the U.S. won't accept them.

Many banks in the U.S. will accept Canadian bills for exchange to U.S. funds, but NOT coins. You should therefore see if you can exchange enough Canadian coins for Canadian bills before you leave Canada.

Tip: There is an "airport improvement fee" (departure tax) at the Vancouver airport on flights leaving to the U.S. of $10.00 Canadian. This is a good time to get rid of your Canadian coins. You can also pay the tax by credit card or with U.S. funds.

Tip: Although, as you would expect, our ATM machines give out Canadian dollars even if you use your U.S. based card, there is an ATM machine at the Royal Bank, corner of Burrard and Georgia Streets in Vancouver, that spits out U.S. dollars (which you might need for your cruise or for going home).

Hope this helps you spend your money in Vancouver!

Have a great Alaska cruise!


Alan WalkerOriginally from Australia, Alan has for some time been permanently settled in Vancouver where he is a practicing Attorney. He has been a SeaLetter columnist, reviewer and our resident humorist for some time now.

To find all of Alan's SeaLetter columns, featured and humorous articles, and cruise and port reviews, visit our SeaLetter COLUMNISTS Index.

Alan loves email, and can be reached at: Alan@sealetter.com.

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